BHA and Young Humanists move to protect non-religious parents with guide on religion in schools

From the British Humanist Association, 20 April 2017:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Young Humanists have published today a comprehensive guide for non-religious parents and young people, offering support and advice on how to navigate an education system increasingly subject to undue religious influence. The guide comes in the week that parents all over England discovered at which primary school their children have been offered a place for the next school year.

Religion in schools: a guide for non-religious parents and young people in England and Wales is free to download from the BHA’s website and aims to ensure that non-religious people are fully aware of their rights and the law as it relates to ‘faith’ schools and religion in schools more generally. The advice covers a range of areas, including Religious Education, Collective Worship, school admissions, and the teaching of Science, all of which can pose particular problems for non-religious families.

Currently, a third of state schools in England and Wales are ‘faith’ schools, meaning non-religious parents in England and Wales have access to around 7,000 fewer appropriate schools, or nearly two million fewer places, than their religious counterparts. Depending on their type, these schools can religiously discriminate in their admission arrangements, employment policies, and delivery of the curriculum, all of which has a deleterious effect on the rights of non-religious parents. What is more, the law still requires schools without a religious character to hold daily acts of Christian worship, meaning that even parents who have specifically chosen to avoid ‘faith’ schools cannot completely escape religious proselytising.

Commenting on the publication of the new guide, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Despite the fact that as a society we are now much more diverse, and much more non-religious, the school system has only become more and more permissive to religious influence in recent years. This guide builds on the decades of support that the BHA has provided to parents and young people caught in the crossfire of this long-standing tension between religion and education, and will hopefully equip them to challenge unlawful and discriminatory practice wherever they find it.’

Lauren Nicholas, coordinator of the BHA’s 18-35s section Young Humanists, added, ‘Well over two-thirds of young people in Britain state that they do not belong to any religion, and nearly half of the population as a whole now say they are non-religious. And yet, whether it’s being denied access to your local school, being forced to pray to a god you don’t believe in, or being taught a narrow and doctrinaire religious education curriculum, non-religious people have never encountered a more hostile education system than the one they face now. We are a maligned majority. Ultimately we must repeal the legal freedoms allowing religion to run amok in our schools, but until then this guide will do a great deal to protect the rights of parents.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the ‘Guide for non-religious parents and young people’: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-04-19-BHA-guide-for-non-religious-parents.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on:

Young Humanists is the 18-35s section of the BHA. Two thirds of Britons between the ages of 18 and 35 are non-religious, according to surveys, and most will share humanist values even if that’s not a term they’ve come across. Young Humanists exists to offer a space for non-religious people aged 18-35 to meet, socialise, debate and support each other.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Humanists send Shropshire schools free copies of “What is Humanism?” book by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young

bookcoverFrom 21 February, schools in Shropshire will be receiving free copies of What is Humanism?, a new book about Humanism from Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, after a national crowdfunding campaign by the British Humanist Association.

Humanists are non-religious people who look to science and reason to understand the natural world and who make moral decisions based on empathy and concern for other human beings, rather than instructions found in holy texts.

The new book is the first book of its kind aimed at children, and was published to support teachers who want to explore non-religious ethics and humanist worldviews in Religious Education lessons. It features contributions from popular faces like comedian Shappi Khorsandi, physicist Jim Al-Khalili, actor Stephen Fry, and novelists Philip Pullman and Natalie Haynes, who are all humanists.

This is the first time the BHA has distributed a book to primary schools, and for many schools, it will be the first book about non-religious worldviews in their libraries.

Simon Nightingale is an accredited humanist school speaker with the British Humanist Association (BHA) who has in the past given talks about Humanism at a number of Shropshire schools including Meole Brace School in Shrewsbury, Burton Borough School in Newport and Telford Priory School. He says:

“Recent surveys have shown that over half the UK population live without religion and among young people it’s almost 70%. Of those that live without religion, almost all hold basic humanist beliefs, even if they are don’t call themselves humanists.

It’s so important that those who live without faith understand where those with faith are coming from. And of course that those with faith understand the basis of humanism. I am particularly keen to address some of the myths about humanists, for example that we are anti-religious; not at all, we are non-religious which is very different and indeed we support the rights of those with faith to live as they wish and we collaborate with other religions and interfaith groups to promote values we share with most moderate religions. Or that living without religion means we have no morals; on the contrary we have strong ethical beliefs based on our innate moral instincts, refined by evidence, reason and understanding each other. Or that humanists are devoid of any spiritual sense and that our lives are without meaning – that too is far from true.

Learning about Humanism helps children, whether they’re religious or not religious, to have a good think about where they get their values from and how they go about making ethical choices. A lot of teachers find Humanism to be a really useful perspective to explore in the classroom because it helps pupils to get to grips with big ethical questions and the wide variety of different religious and non-religious worldviews.”

Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young commented:

“Millions of people in this country and all over the world work out their philosophy of life, and how to live, without referring to religion. Schools quite rightly spend a good deal of time and effort exploring the ideas and philosophies of the world’s great religions, but the ideas of humanism, secularism, and atheism are largely ignored. The mismatch between what is believed and what is taught is surely wrong. Our book aims at opening up a discussion about what humanism is, and how people live their lives as humanists. Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to ask questions, in order to help them think for themselves and thus to counter prejudice.”

Simon Nightingale and other humanists were trained as a school speaker by BHA, which also provides teachers with free education resources through its website, Understanding Humanism. Teachers can also use the site to request a free visit from a humanist school speaker.

Simon Nightingale on radio talking about faith schools and fair admissions

Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanist Group spoke on Jim Hawkins’ radio show on 16 June on BBC Radio Shropshire.

Listen on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wtk8f beginning around 8 minutes on the timeline.

This talk preceded the visit of Jay Harman of BHA to talk to us about the problems caused by faith schools.

BHA: Telford boy told he can’t ride bus to school with other children because he doesn’t go to church

From the British Humanist Association on 11 May:

Note: Jay Harman of the BHA will be talking to Shropshire Humanist Group about faith schools on 16 June. All concerned are welcome.

A pupil in Telford has been told that he cannot ride a council-run bus to school along with his classmates because ‘he’s not Catholic’, it has been reported. The bus serves the Holy Trinity Academy in Priorslee, which was opened in 2015 jointly by the local Roman Catholic and Anglican dioceses, and despite the bus being operated by Telford and Wrekin Council, it is not open to children at the school who are either not religious or belong to a minority religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has once again called on the exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 allowing for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of school transport to be scrapped.

Speaking about the situation, the father of the boy involved stated that the ‘the bus stops two minutes from the front door’, ‘but he was told that because he’s not Catholic, even though he goes to the school, he can’t use it’. A spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said ‘Transport assistance is offered to pupils who are baptised Catholics and pupils whose families are faithful and regular worshippers in a Church of England Parish Church or other Christian affiliated churches if they live over the three-mile distance criteria for secondary aged pupils.’

Remarkably, discrimination of this kind is entirely legal, as the provision of school transport by local authorities is exempted from equalities legislation. The BHA has previously raised concerns about this exemption with the Department for Education, stating in their response to a 2014 consultation on the issue that ‘Providing one group of parents extra choice over others is unfair, and the nature of the discretionary spending likely causes religious and ethnic segregation’.

The BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘Discretionary transport for children attending “faith” schools is unfair, discriminatory, and also completely unnecessary. Religious families are already given greater choice of schools than non-religious families as a result of the religious discrimination permitted in school admissions, and this is only exacerbated by the provision of free transport for the religious. On top of that, all the evidence tells us that very few parents actually send their children to a “faith” school for reasons of religion, so this kind of provision is entirely unnecessary too.

‘Ultimately, of course, we do not think it is appropriate for any state body to provide funding for a service which incentivises parents to avoid inclusive and integrated schools in favour of discriminatory and divisive schools. This will only serve to entrench religious segregation in our education system, and we would encourage any council providing free transport to do so in a fair and non-discriminatory way.’

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA calls for an end to “faith” school bias in school transport provision’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/03/bha-calls-end-faith-school-bias-school-transport-provision/

Read the BHA’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation on home-to-school travel and transport: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/New-home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance-response-from-the-BHA.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

BHA: Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents

From the British Humanist Association, 25 January:

Following a report published by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) last year revealing that almost every religiously-selective school in England is breaking the law, the Education Secretary has announced she now plans to ban groups and organisations from officially raising concerns about the admission arrangements of schools. In a thinly veiled attack on the BHA, the ban, which was first suggested by a variety of religious organisations in a meeting with Department for Education (DfE) officials last year, is specifically targeted at ‘secular campaign groups’, according to Nicky Morgan. The BHA has described the proposal as an ‘affront to both democracy and the rule of law’, stating that it will allow religiously selective schools to continue abusing the system and unfairly discriminate against a huge number of children in the process.

Under current rules, any citizen or civil society organisation is allowed to lodge an objection with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) if they believe a school has failed to comply with the School Admissions Code. In the absence of a body actively enforcing compliance with the Code, these objections from parents, local authorities, charities, and other organisations, represent the only impartial means of ensuring that schools adhere to the law and do not attempt to manipulate their intakes.

Despite this, the Government is now proposing to prohibit organisations from lodging objections with the OSA, largely in response to a joint BHA/FAC report published last year. The report, entitled An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law, detailed the rulings of the OSA on the admission arrangements of a small sample of religiously selective schools, finding widespread violations of the Code in every case. These violations acted to prevent parents from gaining fair access to state schools and the consequent rulings added credence to long-standing concerns about the cynical way in which religious selection is carried out in ‘faith’ schools. These concerns were widely shared by parents and clearly indicated that more needs to be done to enforce the Code, not less.

The Education Secretary’s comments represent the first time Nicky Morgan has confirmed her plan to push ahead with the ban, stating: ‘we are ensuring only local parents and councils can object to admissions arrangements, which will also put a stop to vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. The Government have stated that they plan to launch a consultation on the proposals in the next few months.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We all need to be clear about what is happening here. A near-universal failure to adhere to the law in a particular area has been identified. Instead of moving to enforce the law, the Government has responded by planning to make it harder to identify future violations of it. This is an affront to both democracy and the rule of law. It will reduce parents’ fair choice of state schools in the interests of the religious organisations that run them at taxpayers’ expense and demonstrates the Government is more interested in concealing the appalling record of religious schools manipulating their intakes than it is in addressing the serious problems this causes.

‘The report we published last year was provoked by the high volume of requests for help we receive every year from parents who are victims of the unfair system, and it revealed that a huge number of children are being unfairly denied places at their local schools due to the abuse of the admissions system by religiously-selective schools. Any restrictions on who can object will not only allow this to continue, it will encourage it by drastically reducing the accountability of the admissions process. The Government is due to consult on this draconian intervention in the next few months, and we will certainly be encouraging everyone who believes in a fairer, more transparent, and less discriminatory education system to respond and oppose the proposals.

‘In the past, civil servants from the Department for Education have often welcomed, indeed encouraged, ours and others’ exposing of schools that are frustrating Government policy by unfairly and unlawfully restricting parental access to and choice of state schools. This sudden change of attitude will be to the detriment not just of transparency in a vital public service, but also to the whole of society, and in particular to parents and children, in whose interest the publicly funded education system should surely be run.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigner, Jay Harman, on jay@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read the BHA/FAC report An Unholy Mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/10/01/an-unholy-mess-new-report-reveals-near-universal-noncompliance-with-school-admissions-code-among-state-faith-schools-in-england/

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/anunholymess-briefing/

Particularly notable findings of the report include:

  • Almost one in five schools were found to require practical or financial support to associated organisations – through voluntary activities such as flower arranging and choir-singing in churches or in the case of two Jewish schools, in requiring membership of synagogues (which costs money).
  • Over a quarter of schools were found to be religiously selecting in ways not deemed acceptable even by their relevant religious authorities – something which the London Oratory School was also found guilty of earlier this year.
  • A number of schools were found to have broken the Equality Act 2010 in directly discriminating on the basis of race or gender, with concerns also raised around discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
  • A majority of schools were found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked after and previously looked after children (LAC and PLAC) – in most cases discriminating in unlawful ways against LAC and PLAC who were not of the faith of the school, and in a few rare cases not prioritising LAC and PLAC at all. A quarter of schools were also found to not be making clear how children with statements of special educational needs were admitted.
  • Almost 90% of schools were found to be asking for information from parents that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants’ countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.
  • Nearly every school was found to have problems related to the clarity, fairness, and objectivity of their admissions arrangements. This included a lack of clarity about the required frequency of religious worship and asking a religious leader to sign a form confirming religious observance, but not specifying what kind of observance is required.

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, the Local Schools Network, Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Impressions of the Humanist schools in Uganda, from an SHG member

 SHG Chris SmithChris Smith is a retired maths teacher and former VSO Uganda volunteer. She is also a Shropshire Humanist Group member and has been Secretary of the group. 

Chris recently revisited Uganda and wrote the following informal update from her visit to the Humanist Schools in Uganda. For more information please visit the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, a charity that SHG supports

My recent visit to Uganda came 6 years after my first arrival.  I had already known about the Humanist Schools; by the end of my placement I knew Isaac Newton, Masaka, quite well; it was only a 3½ hour drive and I had my own vehicle.  In 2012 I joined the Friendship visit and managed to get to Mustard Seed, Kamuli, for the first time.  But I still hadn’t really been to any of the schools as a Maths teacher and that niggled.

I visited independently in February this year, at the start of the academic year, spending a week each at Isaac Newton (Masaka campus) and Mustard Seed.

I found that Primary Leaving Exam results were out late so S1 were only just starting to register.  “O” level results were very overdue, so S5 (lower sixth) hadn’t started.

I observed lessons. Venn diagrams loom large on the Ugandan curriculum, tedious and artificial, but other topics were more lively.  When “supplementing” lessons I asked why and how questions.  Rote learning is at the heart of Ugandan teaching, there are large classes and few resources; this can work well for Maths but there is a loss of independent thinking and flexibility.

S6 students (the A level year) sought me out when I was not in other classes. At INHS I was amazed by the standard already achieved by some of the students; they asked me about exam questions which they found difficult, I counted the years since I last taught at that level and consulted text books.  Students at Mustard Seed were not as advanced, but I team taught with one of their teachers and found him to be highly professional both in the content of the lessons and the non-dogmatic way he communicated with the students.

So far so ordinary.  I introduced experimental probability, coins were spun, dice rolled.  Initially students were very hesitant, out of their comfort zone.  I presented some of the questions I have used with my U3A “Numbers and Stuff” group; these led them to think in different ways.  I spoke to teachers about positive discipline, giving praise, quick ways to assess the progress of whole classes.

SHG Chris Smith Uganda 2At Mustard Seed the director asked me to speak to the boarders, boys and girls separately, about Humanism but emphasising the importance of females staying in school, avoiding early sex and pregnancy.  I told them about my life so far, emphasising my humble origins, being the first person in my family to be able to stay on at school after 14 and the difference that had made to my opportunities; that I have only two children so we could do our best for them and so I could work at my chosen profession.  I asked what they thought education could give them.  I explained that Humanists don’t have a rule book or leader, consider they can use reason to decide how to live well, can be friends to people of any religious belief or none, did not fear hell or try to act well just to reach heaven.  I emphasised that the Humanist Schools welcome staff and students who followed any religion, or no religion, equally.

Buildings, equipment and infrastructure have improved and numbers of students have increased; the purposeful atmosphere is just the same and what I most enjoy about my visits.

Uganda has very many places of worship. Some explicitly offer cures and wealth, it is the churches themselves that benefit.  Religious belief is often used as the excuse for persecution of “the other”, homosexuals the most extreme example at present, and it often overlays superstition, acceptance of witchcraft, inappropriate treatments from local healers.

Can the Humanist Schools make a difference?  Emphatically, yes.  Anything we can do to demonstrate atheists being generous and trying to lead good lives, and to encourage the use of reason rather than dogma is worth the effort.

Andy Lewis: Tory free schools plot to spin away the racism of Steiner schools

Rudolf Steiner’s depiction of the different intellectual characteristics of the races

Government denials of problems look misleading.

Last year, I wrote to my local MP, Lib Dem Tessa Munt, to raise concerns that the nearby opening of a state funded Steiner School raised a number of issues. Most importantly, that Steiner Schools are not open about the religious and occult nature of their philosophy and that this philosophy is based on an abhorrent racist view of human spirituality. Furthermore, children are likely to be exposed to pseudoscience, hidden spiritual agendas and nonsensical teaching philosophies.

Tessa Munt consulted with Education Minister, Lord Hill of Oareford, who today was promoted to Leader of the House of Lords, and wrote to me to say that “he would not have approved any school that raised concerns of the nature” I raised.  In short, what I was saying was untrue.

It has now come to my attention that Tory party strategists close to the Department of Education were well aware of the problematic nature of Steiner philosophies and discussed with the Steiner Waldorf Schools Federation ways of using PR to head off anticipated criticisms of new publicly funded Steiner Schools. It would appear that either Lord Hill, a former employee of Bell Pontinger,had been kept in the dark about these concerns and PR tactics or had misled my MP.

Read more at Andy’s blog

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